It's not so much that Cam Newton suffered a setback in his recovery for a mid-foot sprain so much as there hasn't been any significant recovery at all. From finally getting on the field in pregame warmups Sunday to visiting another doctor's office by Friday, the lack of improvement is what's most frustrating and concerning for the former NFL MVP and his 4-3 Carolina Panthers team.
The Panthers confirmed Friday that Newton is visiting with renowned foot and ankle specialist -- and former assistant team physician -- Robert Anderson today to determine why Newton's Lisfranc injury isn't healing like everyone had hoped. The latest news seemingly extends the timeline for Newton to return to action when the original hope -- on Newton's part, at least -- was he'd be healthy enough to play by this week or next.
"I spent a long time speaking with Cam this week and he's done everything he possibly can in his rehab process to get his foot to 100 percent," general manager Marty Hurney told the team site. "Unfortunately, we haven't reached that point. The next step is for him to go see Dr. Anderson and gather more information."
Questions abound about how the team handled Newton's initial injury, which he suffered against New England in the third exhibition. Shouldn't the tests and MRIs have revealed the full extent of the injury? Well, not exactly. This sort of sprain is not as black-and-white as a bone break, and there have been athletes who have played without undergoing surgery but instead with extended rest. Additionally, Newton has been seeing doctors outside of the team's employ since September, multiple sources have indicated to me in the past two months.
Not helping matters is the fact that Newton, by his own admission, withheld the full extent of his injury from the coaching staff. In a video shot and produced by his own production company, Newton smoked a cigar and sipped wine in September as he looked into the camera and said, "I was hiding an injury where I could have easily said, 'You know what, Coach, I don't think I'm ready. Maybe I need to kind of consider sitting this one out for the betterment [of the team].'"
The news comes at a time where there are several stories in the news about NFL player health and team doctors. Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams spoke at length this week about his distaste and mistrust of team doctors after he said a growth on his head went undiagnosed for six years. In New York, Kelechi Osemele and the Jets are in a tug-of-war regarding the health of his right shoulder.
But multiple doctors inside and outside of the building are evaluating Newton, as any player in control of his or her health should allow. Now Newton is seeing a doctor who has operated on him before, who both he and the team trusts and whose expert opinion carries the most weight for those involved. And then there's the self-admission that he wasn't honest with health professionals until after he had played two games in four days less than two weeks after his initial injury.
The reasons for Newton avoiding surgery and opting for rest were and are obvious. His 2018 season was essentially cut in half by a failing throwing shoulder. He attempted to play through it but was rendered ineffective as a passer before Thanksgiving. The Panthers haven't won a playoff game since the 2015 season, and the window that was wide open then appeared to be closing on this group.
And then there's the contract situation. Newton has one year left of his $103.8 million contract he signed the summer before his MVP season. There was no talk of an extension this offseason, which is rather rare for a franchise quarterback entering his age-30 season with unrestricted free agency just two years away. But that was a signal that there was uncertainty floating around Newton's shoulder health, and before he could prove he was back to his old self, he injured his foot in the preseason.
Newton would count $21.2 million against the cap next year, while cutting him would result in just $2 million in dead money for Carolina.
So Newton clearly wanted (and wants) to get back on the field as soon as possible, for both competitive reasons and future compensation as well. But a six-week timeline has always been optimistic for this sort of injury, and now perhaps we are seeing it for what it always was: unrealistic.